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Talent Management: Getting young talent to come and stay

Originally published by CIO magazine (German only)

Young professionals are rare and sought after - and they know it. This is how companies become talent magnets.

Mediative team development turns integrated IT teams into a powerful engine for future-oriented companies.
Employers must work hard to rebuild team spirit after coronavirus, despite the demands of working from home.

Digital natives confront employers with new expectations. Expectations that some companies are finding difficult to meet, while others are dismissing them as the unrealistic demands of a generation that is unwilling to work. However, those who take them seriously can gain a unique competitive advantage and position themselves as an attractive employer of the future.

Flexibility and social connections as assets

Digital natives are shaking up the job market. They want more than an above-average salary, a fancy job title or employment with the most attractive employer in the region. What they want is flexibility and real interpersonal relationships. They are not willing to compromise. This is backed up by research conducted by software developer Citrix in conjunction with Coleman Parks Research and Oxford Analytica. According to the study, more than two-thirds of people surveyed worldwide said that teleworking had made them aware of the importance of social interaction in the work context. However, they did not want to return to the office.

Companies are therefore caught in a dilemma: social proximity in the midst of virtual distance - a seeming contradiction in terms. There's a temptation to say to the younger generations: "You can't have it all. Make a choice. Either you work together in a flexible way virtually or you experience a strong team spirit in the office". But because digital natives are the future of organisations, and they don't want to mess up the future, companies are looking for solutions. One of the solutions that can often be found in the IT sector is a compromise between mobile working and an obligation to be physically present. This is well-intentioned, but rarely done well.

Compromising is not a solution

Finding the right balance between teleworking and working in the office that satisfies everyone is undoubtedly a very ambitious task. If the amount of teleworking is too high, there is a risk that employees will become emotionally detached from the team and the risk of staff turnover will increase. If you don't feel tied down, you are more likely to look for a new job. Digitalisation is adding fuel to the fire, as the growing number of virtual working models in IT means that the next job is often just a decisive click away.

Conversely, too high a ratio of mandatory physical presence is often interpreted by younger generations as a sign of mistrust and backwardness. In an international IT organisation, this measure is no longer appropriate to promote a sense of togetherness. Requiring all members of a team to be present assumes that everyone is working in one location. This is rarely the case in global organisations, which often involve a large number of external colleagues.

Even in the best of circumstances, when all team members are based in the same location, the question is how much time they can actually spend together. It is not uncommon for team members to sit next to each other for hours without exchanging many words because they are all involved in a marathon meeting or have to concentrate on completing tasks under time pressure. There is hardly any room for casual small talk, let alone for igniting the fire of an unshakable sense of togetherness that continues to burn even when team members are working together virtually again. But companies need this fire to attract young professionals.

Ignite virtual team spirit

We've all been there. Dull, lifeless virtual meetings where the same people talk over and over and the group disappears in the shadows of cameras turned off. This is the common denominator in virtual collaboration. But where companies can really differentiate themselves is by recreating in the virtual space a sense of the old days, of the once vibrant day-to-day office life. Those moments when cheerful laughter filled the rooms, when people went into battle together and celebrated victories.

Companies that succeed in creating such a lively working atmosphere in the middle of the isolated digital world attract young talent like a magnet. Even experienced colleagues think twice about leaving such an environment.

Developing digital teams can help solve talent shortages
Developing digital teams can help solve talent shortages

But a vibrant team spirit does not just happen. Targeted measures are needed to ensure that the spark is ignited. This is where digital team development comes in - the proven method of mediative team development can also light the fire in the virtual space.

Digital team development: The Concept

Mediative team development combines proven methods of traditional team development with strategic conflict resolution (mediation) to create an effective approach that focuses on developing conflict competence and other team skills that are important for virtual collaboration. The team sets priorities, identifies the most common stumbling blocks and overcomes them with the help of the mediator. In this way, the team moves step by step to the next level of performance.

The mediative approach therefore differs from traditional team development in that it is much more self-determined. In this way, it can be ensured that the issues that the team is constantly confronted with are dealt with in the appropriate scope. After all, who knows better than the team itself what the issues are?

Team development must be clearly distinguished from team building, a polarising event that leaves some with positive memories in the short term, while others are relieved that the trip to the high ropes course, for example, or the seemingly childish games or trust exercises are over. The fact is that team building is often not the best way to develop mature teams. Such teams usually have a lot of building blocks. Too many to eliminate by team building in depth. Mediative team development can do just that - even in virtual space.

Become a magnet for talent: Here's how

Let's take a closer look at how companies can use digital team development to attract and retain young professionals. This is how you convince:

1. Bonding through belonging

Digital natives want to move mountains, not alone, but as part of a team. This is what they want, but what they rarely find when looking for a job, because in the IT industry the word "team" is often used, but rarely lived.

According to the Business Psychology Society, teams are "artificially formed social groups for the purpose of solving specific tasks". Talking to team members, it is often clear that to them a team is much more than a group of people. It is a feeling. It is a feeling of being able to create something bigger together, of being able to rely on each other and to support each other. Many even describe a team as a family.

However, this subjective experience does not come about on its own and it requires more than just occasional meetings. Digital team development can help create this feeling. It can turn a group of virtually dispersed specialists into an unshakable community that binds talent.

2. Authenticity that attracts

Organisations outdo each other in presenting what many young people want to hear: a flexible, environmentally conscious and team-oriented corporate culture. However, only values that are put into practice are attractive. The dilemma becomes particularly clear when companies promote flexibility on the one hand, and pettishly discuss physical presence ratios on the other. Such practices have the potential to make companies look untrustworthy. They undermine the trust of employees and scare away potential new recruits.

Patience is not a strength of Generation Z

But let's face reality: Large companies are equated with cumbersome tankers - slow and sluggish in their decision-making processes. Because of their size and complexity, it tends to take a long time for changes to be implemented - a lot longer than the younger generations are prepared to be patient with.

Of course, digital natives can be accused of being too impatient. Indeed, patience is not their strong point, but it is hard to blame them for that. These are the generations that have grown up with digital platforms and streaming services like Netflix. One click, and everything is available. By comparison, some companies appear to these generations to be as advanced as the video age, moving at the speed of a grounded tanker. There is a huge gap between expectations and reality. But how can this discrepancy be reduced? A tanker remains a tanker and does not become a speedboat, even if the younger generations demand a quick turnaround. Virtual team development can be one answer.

Team development offers digital natives the opportunity to be more flexible, even in large organisations, and to actively shape the team culture of the future today. At the same time, companies can demonstrate their flexibility, environmental awareness and team orientation. After all, virtual team development is like watching a film on Netflix - it is immediately available, requires no travel budgets to be approved and also helps to reduce CO2 emissions. This gives younger generations what they want, while companies gain authenticity and time to implement digital transformation at their own pace. A win-win situation for both.

3. Recommendations that build trust

It is becoming increasingly difficult for companies to attract the attention of young talent by simply following the well-trodden paths of their competitors. Brilliant social media appearances, captivating TikTok videos and stunning photos from team events are now part of most companies' standard repertoire. These posts get lost in the information overload and hardly generate the dopamine needed to keep followers glued to their screens.

As a result, digital natives check carefully whether what is being promoted to them is real. They are increasingly using their personal networks to find out what really goes on behind the walls of organisations. Real experiences from real people are far more credible to them than being impressed by elaborately staged advertising campaigns. As a generation that has grown up with social networks and is highly connected, it is easy for them to gain authentic insights in this way.

Employees are a company's best ambassadors

An unbeatable strategy for attracting young talent can therefore be to mobilise your own employees as "ambassadors". However, this only works if they are enthusiastic and talk with a sparkle in their eyes about their working environment, where flexibility, appreciation and team spirit are truly lived.

Digital team development can help companies create an inspiring virtual working environment where people of different ages, cultures and expertise work hand in hand. In this way, companies gain passionate ambassadors whose recommendations are unbeatable and whose impact surpasses even the most expensive advertising campaigns.

Let's summarise: Digital natives' workplace demands are neither better nor worse than those of previous generations - they are simply different. New demands require new digital ways of meeting them. Digital team development can be one promising approach.


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